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Clarifying The US Air Force's Non Involvement In Persona Management Software Contract

Shel Holtz recently wrote a post about persona management software; this software enables people to manage multiple social networking accounts remotely. Shel made the strongest recommendation that organizations and companies don't use such tools because of the potential for a PR disaster when it's discovered that an organization is using such tools for communications purposes to manipulate opinion.

 Shel had also noticed that the US Military had an open contract for such persona management software, and quoting Erik Sherman's post on the topic, Sherman speculated that the US Air force was going to use the software for personnel recruitment.

Sherman mused that the software may be used for the following activities:

  • Play a part in antiterrorism activities.
  • Offer an outlet to disseminate propaganda as though it were the opinions of disinterested individuals.
  • Keep tabs on what military personal do online.

I followed up with a post of my own. But then I thought I should ask the US Air force about their intentions for the contract, and so I contact the acquisitions officer, who put me in touch with a Military media officer, CDR Bill Speaks Media Officer/Chief, Digital Engagement Team CCPA. Who told me that the contract was not for the Air Force, and was posted for the following reasons, "this contract supports activities at US Central Command, as opposed to the Air Force. The software supports classified social media activities outside the US intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda." and Bill went onto say, "I will add that we do use social media for traditional public affairs activities, informing the public of our activities, we certainly do not employ this kind of technology in that effort. The persona management software only supports those classified activities I described."

So it seems that this contract has nothing to do with the US Air force and the part of the military that did issue the RFP does not use this software for recruitment or their public relations activities.

It seems reasonable to me that the US Military would use such tools for antiterrorism, when it comes to individuals, but I have concerns if they are using this software to influence opinion within a society because of the potential for a PR disaster, as Shel states, and not that it was stated that the software was being used for this purpose.  So while I think it's important for the PR community to understand who issued the contract, and its purposes. It is still important to give advice to the community that influencing communities in a society using such tools has inherent communications dangers.

So many business people argue that to make a profit they have to bend the rules, and people who are young, inexperienced, afraid, pressured, go along because they don’t have connection with a community. My colleague Shel made his post for the community to speak out about such practices in business, because he like I believe in the power of community and social media to influence business people to do the right thing for both ethical reasons and profit.

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